DIRECTED BY Lukas Moodysson
STARRING Oksana Akinshina, Artiom Bogucharskij, Pavel Ponomarev
Opens April 25, Cert 18, 109 mins
As harrowing and distressing as Lars Von Trier's Breaking The Waves or Dancer In The Dark, but a better film, this establishes Moodysson as, quite possibly, the post-millennial Bergman. The elder Swede's already described him as "a young master". His lovely 2000 film Together shrugged and smiled sweetly when things got rough. This one just keeps on getting rougher: it's uncompromising and unforgettable. Maid In Manhattan it's not.
Sixteen-year-old Lilya (the astonishingly open, brittle and proud Akinshina) exists (rather than lives) in a drab suburb "somewhere in the former Soviet Union" (actually Estonia). The buildings can't get it up to be grey; the trees don't know what a leaf is. She and equally poor young friend Volodya (Bogucharskij) dream of America, of the luxuries enjoyed and symbolised by Britney Spears and Michael Jordan. When Lilya's mum runs off with her new man, the girl's forced to drop out of school, sniff glue, and fend for herself. Shafted by her wicked aunt, she has no food and no electricity—it's only a matter of time before she's reduced to acts of prostitution.
Hope—that cruel temptress—arrives in the form of Andrei (Ponomarev), a handsome charmer. Lilya's spirits lift. He invites her to Sweden: a flat and a job await. Escape at last! Lilya marvels at the airport shops, the prettiest things she's ever seen, the baubles for sale. But at the other end of the journey, a horrible destiny crushes her back down.
"It was meant to be a film about God's benevolence," Moodysson has said, "but reality reared its head and it became something else." Reality kicks doggedly at the characters' shins, but it's their dreams (as with the girls in his debut, Fucking ÅmÅl/Show Me Love) that keep them breathing and defiant. But those dreams also dupe them into even deeper trouble. This is a much darker film than Together, any warm glow soon usurped by a cold frost.
It's desperately moving, and a significant shot across the bows of the sex trade's East European child trafficking. An 'issue' movie, then, but Moodysson engages you on a profoundly human level: at first Lilya's imperfect, a brat who relishes puny gestures of rebellion, but her resistance to adversity is heroic. Akinshina is quite something: asked to carry an ugly, initially colourless story, she does so with feral fury. Bogucharskij is less convincing, and Moodysson makes an uncharacteristically cheesy miscalculation involving angel wings later on (in a bathos-soaked Woolworths Of Desire moment), but these are minor quibbles. If you have any kind of heart, this film will rip it out. "This world isn't so good," mutters Lilya, with great understatement. Ironically, you'll emerge thinking how lucky you are. Stunning.
Rating: 4 / 10